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How ChatGPT can be embraced - not feared - in the classroom

Feb 24, 2023, 11:32 by Aaron Bennett
Launched in November 2022, ChatGPT is trained on large language models and has already been proven to pass several graduate-level exams. So what does the emergence of ChatGPT mean for business education?

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot that is reshaping how faculty and students alike are approaching higher education. Launched in November 2022, ChatGPT is trained on large language models and has already been proven to pass several graduate-level exams. So what does the emergence of ChatGPT mean for business education? We asked Gies College of Business Assistant Dean for Educational Innovation Tawnya Means and Assistant Professor Unnati Narang.

How can we, as educators, reposition how we think about ChatGPT – not as a threat, but as a tool to achieve a transformative experience?

Unnati Narang (right): I see huge opportunities with generative AI and tools like ChatGPT in education if we begin to more deeply understand and overcome some of the initial barriers they have posed. I teach a large online marketing course, and I wanted to examine how AI can transform the learner experience. So I encouraged learners to use ChatGPT to craft their response to weekly discussion forums in my course. So far, I have discovered two main findings. First, AI has drastically reduced barriers to writing, which means now we can see learners posting more and longer responses in forums that used to be quiet. On the flip side, however, I have noticed that AI-generated posts tend to be less engaging; they’re garnering fewer comments and reactions from other learners. Why is that? When I used textual analyses to examine the nature of posts in AI-enabled discussions, the data seem to suggest that these posts tend to sound very similar and homogenous. In settings like education where we care about active discussions and debate, this could highlight a potential downside of generative AI in addition to many other concerns that are being voiced recently. On the flipside, the opportunity is to teach students how to think and critically evaluate what the AI may be saying.

Tawnya Means: Embracing ChatGPT in your classroom can have two major positive effects. It can teach students the ramifications of using AI, and it can also enrich the learning experience. Can I as an instructor use AI to help learners get past barriers, as Unnati suggested?  As an instructor, when I’m grading students on their work, what is my goal? Am I assessing end product, or rather the path they took to reach that end product? Research tells us the latter will give us a much better picture of what they actually learned, and ChatGPT can augment that. Maybe a student has writer’s block. As instructors, we can encourage them to use Chat GPT by entering a prompt and seeing how ChatGPT responds. Learners can then take that answer, check the facts, apply their other knowledge, and rewrite the response to fit with the guidelines you have given them. Combining this all, learners can produce an end product with higher quality, and they can submit their work/progress it took to get to that answer.


As an instructor, how do I decide when to use ChatGPT myself?

TM: Technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and more all allow us to do more at scale than we can do as individuals. Appropriately using technology, as instructors, gives us greater opportunities for humanization. As online education becomes more pervasive, we’re able to offer more education at scale. While that is great, it does limit our ability to have one-on-one interaction with all of our students. By letting ChatGPT automate some of my other tasks, such as building a syllabus or creating learning outcomes for a course, I can devote more of my time to engaging with students personally and empathetically – skills ChatGPT cannot do. This helps me get my work done, and it also helps students feel like they’re getting a personalized learning experience.

UN: The key is personalized learning, and there’s not one “right approach.” In large online courses, for example, not everyone speaks English as their primary language. ChatGPT can help them get to a similar baseline of writing acumen; it’s one more barrier they can overcome. It has a lot of potential to bring learners onto the same level playing field, and then as instructors we can build on that depending on the learning objectives. In business education, we’re interested in elevating learners’ critical thinking skills. If you ask the AI a dumb question, you will likely get a dumb answer. How can we use technologies to help us become smarter, and not dumber? These emerging AI tools give us an opportunity to demonstrate the process of learning to our students. They allow us to show learners when and how a tool is beneficial vs. not – as we ourselves learn and figure it out in the process! Research shows that if you use of AI in some contexts, it can make you appear less knowledgeable and even less empathetic.


Can ChatGPT help students get more than just a good grade? How can this mirror what students will see in the real world?

TM (right): It’s critical that we get our students to a point where they’re not going to be overwhelmed by a concept or new technology (like ChatGPT); instead, they need to be able to apply their reasoning and critical thinking skills to judge whether the output or outcome is correct. If we cannot make those judgments and avoid those pitfalls, then we’re going to make bad decisions leading to detrimental outcomes. Students need to be fluent in how AI responses are generated, what outcomes to inspect, and how to look at massive datasets and know where there’s a flaw in the system or reasoning. We have to recognize that students don’t need to spend their time on the lower-level skills. Rather than sitting down with a spreadsheet and crunching numbers themselves, they can use these tools and speed up that work so they can do other tasks that require higher-order thinking.

UN: The “real” world is changing rapidly. If our job is to prepare our students for their future, well, the future is already here. So, we need to stay ahead of the curve in business schools. Can we provide our students exposure to at least some of what they are likely to see when they join professional roles? When I teach programming in R in my analytics course, I tell students that my job is to teach them how to learn. I am not going to be with them their entire life to troubleshoot errors, and there is no way that I can replicate all possible scenarios they will run into and need assistance for. They are here to learn how to learn when they get stuck and to develop a way of thinking about issues. So, if we can teach them the nuances and ethical implications of AI – or any new technology – then we can prepare them better for professional roles, that will no doubt expose them to these technologies anyway. In fact, tiktok is bursting with ChatGPT right now and I can tell you most of my undergraduate students are more on top of it!


Tangibly, what can we do in the classroom right now to benefit from ChatGPT?

TM: Take the one assignment that you really don’t like in your class. Maybe you’re struggling with it or it’s just not quite having the outcomes you want. Put that assignment into ChatGPT, tell it what you’re trying to accomplish, and see what it says. You can modify the prompt and then try it again. When you get it to the point where it’s close, ask it to generate some learning outcomes, a rubric, and sample feedback. Those kinds of things will generate some ideas you can try with your students.

UN: I’d say to take one assignment – any assignment – and see how you might change it to allow students to use ChatGPT. If it’s a writing assignment, you could have them use ChatGPT to get started. Then as a second level, identify some guidelines for how you’d like them to use ChatGPT. Have them show the process they went through, explore the full potential of that interaction, and examine the pros and cons. It can be a really fun and rewarding experience for them to learn and explore the ramifications AI can have. As instructors, we need to focus less on the end outcome and more on the process.


How can this help us think about academic integrity differently?

TM: It all comes down to how we communicate with our students about our expectations. If we put heavy emphasis on a large-stakes assessment – to the point where it feels threatening – they’re going to be much more likely to have less integrity, in preparation or completion. If we present these assessments in smaller bites and show them how the assessments apply to their education and life – and it reveals to them where they are and aren’t prepared – it helps them to be less inclined to reduce their own integrity.

UN: There is no one right solution. I strongly believe it’s more important to focus less on the outcome and more on the process. Even in courses with hard skills like coding, I tell my students you can write this code 3-4 different ways and still get to the same outcome. The process is much harder to fake than the outcome, and putting the emphasis on that aspect can also communicate an important message to our learners.